What started as a grade school journal has now evolved into a larger effort by a Western Anthropology graduate student to help his community tell its stories in ways that are more creative.
“I grew up with a passion for painting. By the time I was in Grade 12, it wasn’t as much about painting as it was about sharing concepts,” said Aaron Bengall, who earned his Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience degree at Western.
“Instead of one painting, it ended up being a series of murals that turned into a children’s book. As an undergrad in Neuroscience at the time, I was passionate not only about people, but how we experience our lives.”
That self-published children’s book, Feel the Beat, brought together those grade school musings with a growing interest in visual art expression. The story revolves around a town where music is lost and dancing has stopped. The main character, Jay, must bring back the music.
Bengall has long been intrigued with how the brain processes art. While each person has his or her own individual experience when it comes to art, Bengall sees a “bigger picture.” Because of that, he has used Feel the Beat at schools and camps at the elementary and nursery levels as a means of inspiring creativity for thousands of children and families across Ontario.
It was at such a presentation where Bengall met Preston Swan-Merrison, who took him on his next literary journey. The young London boy approached Bengall at an event and shared with him the need for stories about Type 1 diabetes. Swan-Merrison wanted to create a children’s book for others like him to let them know they were not alone.
“He pretty much said, ‘You’re the one that’s going to make it happen,’” Bengall laughed.
Together, the pair created Preston’s Big Game, which explains how diabetes affects the body, using a hockey game as its example.
The creative process involved a close relationship between Bengall and the Swan-Merrison family. They introduced him to others involved in fundraising and communication events related to juvenile diabetes. The process has even pushed his graduate work that focuses on empowering families who have a member with Type 1 diabetes.
Bengall has had his own struggles. Known to experience low energy and the inability to focus, he was recently diagnosed with ADHD. “Maybe it speaks to the challenges I’ve had of expressing my own self and why I think it’s important for other people to get help expressing themselves,” he said.
To help others get their message out, Bengall has since created the Brain Library, an “experiential family book publisher with a commitment to community wellness beyond the pages of a book.” Located inside the Kushnir Art Studio in Toronto’s North End, the library brings together art professionals and their students to create interactive displays for fundraising, marketing or educational purposes.
By providing social leaders and families with expression products and services designed to facilitate change, Bengall said it allows others to experience similar life-altering experiences he has enjoyed.
“When you have these experiences – be it signing a book, leading a book talk or inspiring change and leading passion – you find out real quick if it’s something you care about or don’t care about,” he said. “Afterwards, if you’re beaming, that’s probably a great sign you’re contributing to society and life is good. It changed me.
“My purpose in life is to empower people to succeed by designing and orchestrating real-word applications of their stories. Leading groups of students on community projects, giving them that real-world experience, while creating books that empower families or community leaders to succeed, is a way where everyone wins.”
To learn more about the Brain Library and its commitment to community wellness through creative solutions that extend beyond the pages of the book, visit brainlibrary.ca.